In principle, there are several methods available to treat breast cancer - used alone or in combination. Which methods are used depends primarily on what type of breast cancer is present, how far it has grown into the surrounding tissue and whether metastases have already formed. In addition, age and previous illnesses also play a role in the therapy. The goal is healing (curative therapy); In some cases, however, it is only possible to intervene to relieve symptoms and to try to prevent or slow down further tumor spread (palliative therapy). Especially proven and current is the treatment of breast cancer in special breast (cancer) centers.
Breast cancer: therapy in different ways
- Operation: This is usually the beginning of therapy for breast cancer. If possible, attempts are made to get the breast operated on - which succeeds in about two-thirds of cases. The cancer cells (possibly also metastases) and some surrounding tissue are removed. Armpit lymph nodes of the affected arm are only surgically removed if a sentinel lymph node (Sentinel) is affected by cancer cells - otherwise it is believed that the cancer has not yet spread. If the tumor is too large for a breast-conserving operation, if there are several tumor foci or if it is a particularly aggressive tumor, the entire breast is removed (mastectomy). The missing breast can be rebuilt by a plastic surgery, alternatively, breast prostheses are adapted for the bra.
- Chemotherapy: In this therapy, drugs (cytostatics) kill cancer cells in various ways. However, healthy cells are also affected - which explains the side effects. For this reason, the chemo is performed in several cycles - with rest periods in between.
- Radiotherapy: With the radiation, leftover cancer cells can be killed after the operation, thus reducing the risk that the cancer will recur (recurrence). For this purpose, radiotherapy (partly with chemotherapy) is used to reduce large tumors before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) or to treat metastases (especially in the bone). Rarely, radiation is used as the sole treatment for breast cancer.
- Anti-hormone therapy: This treatment method is used in so-called hormone-dependent tumors, ie when the breast cancer grows under the influence of hormones. This can be seen during tissue examination after surgery. Typical representative of the drugs used is tamoxifen.
- Other options of therapy: In the so-called "targeted therapy", substances are used which, in contrast to chemotherapy, only attack the tumor cells. Examples include trastuzumab, which blocks cancer-promoting messengers, and bevacizumab, which blocks blood supply in the tumor. With bisphosphonates, which are otherwise used for bone protection in osteoporosis, it is likely that the risk of relapse in breast cancer can be reduced. So far, however, in breast cancer they have only been approved for the treatment of bone metastases.
In addition to the specific therapies, the pain, side effects - such as chemotherapy - and the after-effects of the operation are also treated; In addition, psychological support is offered to those affected by breast cancer.